Minnesota Irish Festival Speech Suit Revived

     ST. LOUIS (CN) — A police patrol commander must face claims that he blocked a Christian from expressing religious views at an Irish Festival, the Eighth Circuit ruled.
     David Miller, an Evangelical Christian, filed a federal complaint against the city of St. Paul, Minn., Police Chief Thomas Smith and Patrol Commander Patricia Englund in Minneapolis.
     Miller planned to carry signs, distribute literature and preach on his religious views during an annual Irish Fair held at Harriet Island Regional Park, a public park in St. Paul.
     Miller claims Englund and an unknown officer approached his group at the entrance to the fair and told them that the fair organizer’s permit allowed it to “make the rules for the property” and that their signage and preaching were not welcome.
     Miller says he asked Englund if she would arrest him for displaying his sign at the fair. Englund said she would take it until the end of the fair.
     Miller says he asked Englund if she would arrest him for distributing literature. Englund said she would consult with fair organizers “to see what their preference was.”
     Miller says he asked Englund if she would arrest him for preaching at the fair. Englund said she hadn’t decided yet.
     Miller claims he and his group left on its own and he wrote a letter to St. Paul officials outlining his concerns about the incident. In a written response, St. Paul denied any wrongdoing, but said that Miller could engage in protected speech and confirmed it would comply with the law during future fairs.
     Not satisfied, Miller filed his lawsuit, which was dismissed by a federal judge due to a lack of standing. The court found that Miller’s expectations about how Englund may have responded were based on hypothetical questions and that there was no specific harm because Englund did not take direct action to curtail his speech.
     On Monday, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit upheld the dismissal against St. Paul, Smith and Englund in their official capacities, but found Miller has standing to pursue his claims against Englund in her individual capacity.
     “While there was no official policy restricting Miller’s expression, § 1983 imposes liability on an official who ‘oversteps [her] authority and misuses power.’ Further, we do not believe that Englund had to take any actions more ‘overt’ than those alleged for Miller to bring a First Amendment claim against her,” Judge Diana E. Murphy wrote. “Englund allegedly threatened to confiscate any banners Miller displayed, creating a concrete threat of injury regardless of whether she also threatened to arrest him.”
     Judges C. Arlen Beam and Raymond W. Gruender concurred. The case was sent back to federal court for further proceedings.

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